The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre and the Ghost of Thelma

Written by Tonya Blust | Michigan 101

M y husband and I took a “ghost tour” of Kalamazoo. It was sponsored by the Kalamazoo Jaycees, which runs the “Ghosts of Kalamazoo Historic Tour” as a fundraiser for Warm Kids, an organization that provides winter weather gear to children who need it. The tour schedule has wrapped for the year, but keep an eye out for the next round of tours during the 2014 Halloween season. We had a great time, and learned a lot about the history of downtown Kalamazoo as well as the ghostly inhabitants that haunt it.

One of the stories our tour guides mentioned was about “Thelma Mertz,” a ghost that is said to lurk the halls of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre at 329 S. Park Street. No one really knows when Thelma began her supernatural wanderings, but reports of her ghost have been made since at least the 1950s. Thelma’s true identity is a mystery, as is her real name. (She became “Thelma Mertz” in the 1970s, when members of a summer youth program at the Civic gave her the moniker. I wonder if she’s any relation to Fred and Ethel.)

Kalamazoo-Civic-Theatre-Haunted-Michigan

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, home to Thelma the ghost

Whoever she is, Thelma seems to be a benign spirit, preferring mischief to terror. The Civic’s flesh-and-blood inhabitants have reported the sound of footsteps walking across the stage when no one was on it, and have also felt a ghostly presence, as though some unseen person was in the room with them. Thelma has played the theatre’s piano, then stopped when someone entered the room to check on the noise. Sometimes Thelma moves items across a room, or opens and closes dressing room doors. Her playfulness isn’t restricted to backstage areas. On occasion, actors report, she has messed with their costumes while they were onstage.

For the most part, Thelma’s pranks are harmless, and while some Civic Theatre regulars believe her story is more legend than reality, almost all of them embrace their unknown visitor. Like curtain calls and standing ovations, Thelma has become a part of the theatre itself.